Creating Places: A Citizen Observer's Look at Nashville's Built Environment

Writer's Note: William Williams' interest in the manmade environment dates to 1970, at which point the then-young Williams started a collection of postcards of city skylines. The collection now numbers 1,000-plus cards. Among the writer's specific interests are exterior building design, city district planning, demographics, signage, mixed-use development, mass transit and green/sustainable construction and living. Williams began his Creating Places column with The City Paper in February 2005. The column in its original form was discontinued in September 2008 and reinvented via this blog in November 2008. Creating Places can be found on the home page of the website of The City Paper, at which Williams has worked in various capacities since October 2000.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Creating Places: USN's Hassenfeld Library

A quick post as I ponder who would be the the more noteworthy "unwitting hipster" were he, hypothetically, to wander into a random East Nashville bar: an elderly Mennonite gentleman or Fred Rogers, circa 1970.

The Hassenfeld Library on the University School of Nashville campus ranks among the best buildings constructed within the city since 2000. There are so many characteristics of the structure's exterior that I find appealing — include the brick color, the stone touches, the engraved "Hassenfeld Library" (seen in the lower photo along the roof line) and the 12-paned traditional windows.

But two elements stand out: 1. the building's contemporary segment (seen on the left half of Hassenfeld in the photo below) interacts effectively with the otherwise traditional design, thus allowing the admirer to realize that this is a "new building" that pays tribute to a timeless style. My only criticism is that the contemporary piece is a tad too large. 2. The building plays nicely off the other, and older, USN structures (they are not seen in the first photo). Given Hassenfeld, which opened in 2004, physically connects with its stately counterparts, a seamless symbiotic relationship is important.

If anybody knows the architect (I Google searched with no luck), please ID.

Grade: A-minus

Friday, May 24, 2013

Creating Places: West End Park addition

It's past midnight and slumber is not visiting me easily. As such, I thought I would make a quick post.

The building pictured below was recently completed in Historic West End Park. Fronting the T-intersection of Long Boulevard and Burns Avenue at an interesting angle, the three-story structure  (I don't know the name) is of a suitable height and width. I also like both the pronounced eaves (a commonly found feature on the buildings in this residential district) and the brick color.

Now for some design negatives:

* The windows on levels two and three look cheap, almost as if they were pasted on the exterior.

* The building's facade offers poor symmetry as the definition-lacking center (not very visible in this photo) looks awkward both by itself and in relation to the columns that frame it.

* On the proportionality theme, the balconies seem a bit small (perhaps I'm being somewhat picky).

*  The siding simply gives the exterior a bland (could be the ubiquitous neutral color) and generic feel, minimizing the otherwise nice effect of the brick. Though I acknowledge there would have been a cost consideration, the building would have looked much better clad fully in brick.

* The structure's sides, as is the case with so many residential buildings designed on a modest budget (which we can safely assume was the case here), are brutal.

During the past 10 years or so, West End Park has been the recipient of residential buildings representing a hodgepodge of styles. Some look quite nice, while others are painfully pedestrian. This building falls into the latter category.

I am curious to get others' thoughts on this design.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Creating Places: Fatherland Flats

A quick post as I tap the toes to Thin Lizzy's groovy live version of "Johnny The Fox Meets Jimmy the Weed" ... 
Earlier today, I drove by Fatherland Flats, Chris McCarty's 48-unit apartment project taking shape in East Nashville. McCarty and his team, once finished, will have spent about $1 million on the multi-building effort (a photo of which is seen below). And though the rehab of what had been called 400 Fatherland (a painfully outdated utilitarian residential complex) will not render the exteriors notably attractive, the new-look FFlats structures should offer an acceptable presence as seen from the street. In addition, the interiors promise to be quite nice. 
No doubt, given the original design, McCarty would have needed to flatten the buildings and start afresh had he wanted to deliver an exceptionally handsome building(s). But the former Seattle resident prefers reusing buildings and I commend him for taking that approach in this case. 
The rehabbing will be concluded by the end of June with the development 75 percent leased (read more here).

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Creating Places: Belmont Close

As I decompress from the excitement of the Memphis vs. Oklahoma City NBA playoff battle, I offer a quick look at Belmont Close.

During the early construction stage of the residential building, located on Wedgewood Avenue and catty-corner from the Belmont University campus, I was concerned that the finished product would offer a hideous street presence. And though the building does contain some flaws and is painfully basic, it is at least a tad more attractive than I expected. For example, the two brick colors interact nicely. The thick base (looks like it might be split-face concrete block, a cheap substitute for stone) and pitched roof deliver a decent bottom and top sandwich for the mid-section, which — in addition to the cleanly contrasting colors — shows solid window-to-facade proportionality. Typically, I don't care for tiny front entrances with steps, but these are acceptable. I don't like the shutters, as they suggest (if you view them at close range) the type shutters found on rural homes.

In short, Belmont Close is very vanilla, with nothing distinctive about its form. But for this type design, I have seen far worse. Given that reality, any building that graded better than an F is a modest success.

Grade: C-minus

(Note: Thanks to local manmade environment enthusiast Ron Brewer for this photo.)

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Creating Places: Saving Ben West

Christine Kreyling, inarguably the most skilled and experienced journalist covering this city's manmade environment, has penned a strong Nashville Scene piece regarding downtown's Ben West Building. Read here.

The following two-sentence flourish from Kreyling is a particular highlight:

"City officials should have learned by now that surface parking is toxic to downtowns. The lots erode the street wall and the pedestrian experience, bring walkers into conflict with cars accessing the lots, [and] contribute nothing but ugliness to the streetscape and little to the tax base, even if privately owned."

Perfectly put, Ms. Kreyling.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Creating Places: Congrats, ESa

The Spring 2013 edition of Learning By Design reports that Nashville-based Earl Swensson Associates, Inc., has received a Citation of Excellence Award for outstanding educational facility design for the renovation and adaptive reuse of Belmont University ’s McAfee Concert Hall,. 

ESa is one of only seven firms in the country to receive the award.

ESa repurposed an aging church sanctuary on the Belmont University campus into a contemporary music hall that serves both the campus and the surrounding community. Distinctive details were preserved, while ESa designed the facility to nearly double its volume by utilizing previously unused attic and floor space. (I've been inside and it's quite nice.)

In addition, Belmont's ESa-designed Randall and Sadie Baskin Center, College of Law, received an Honorable Mention Award. ESa is one of only three firms in the country to receive the honor. The center is one of the best examples of post-2010 traditional architecture in Nashville.